How cool is this? Steph and I are both writing from our apartment tonight - in fact, we can both write at the same time thanks to the wireless router we picked-up from Home Plus yesterday. While Steph went to the gym this morning and I, well... didn't, a nice man come to hook-us up with internet. I guess this means no more trips to the PC Bang near our school. I'm okay with that, though I will miss reading the bizarre poetry they have written on their walls.
We got home from school and buying a quick pizza about 45 minutes ago and we've both been blogging since then - or, checking email and stuff. It's nice to know that we can catch-up with more time to ourselves instead of having to listen to young Korean boys kill each other in various PC games back at good ol' Cyber Blue Cafe.
My apologies to anyone who was waiting to see photos from our trip into Seoul last weekend. I had meant to post about it, but our first week of school really got in the way ;) So, today, I offer you two shortish travelogues to recount our adventures during the last two Saturdays that Steph and I spent in Seoul...
Saturday, September 1st
Steph and I decided to take a city bus from a stop near our apartment and school to get us to Suwon station - a fairly huge subway and Korean Rail station in our city. We could cab it for about 7,000 wan (roughly $7 Canadian) or we could take the bus for much less - so, we opted for the bus. We could save a little cash and maybe see a little bit of the city on our way to the station. Little did we know that we would soon be embarking on a marathon tour of what surely must have been the entirety of Suwon itself. After a 45 minute bus ride, we were at Suwon Station and ready to get on the subway.
After our little jaunt into Seoul with Bonnie and Ian the previous week, we were pretty sure that we would be able to figure things out for ourselves, but we got a bit confused over track numbers and line numbers and panicked a bit before finally choosing the right track. Once you're on the subway, you can really just check the next stop to know that you're going the right way, if not, get off and wait for the next one - you won't really be charged until you try to leave. While on the subway, we thought we'd take a look through my Moon Handbook of South Korea - a truly useful gift so far (thank you, Dee!).
We decided that a palace tour was in order, as was a bit of shopping - or window shopping since we're a little low on funds until the 10th of October.
The Palaces all have extremely cool names here and the translations are even more fun for us, so I drove Steph a little bit nuts with my excitement for places like the "Palace of Shining Happiness", the "Palace of Virtuous Longevity" and the "Hall of Government by Restraint". How can you not completely dig those names?!!!
We were actually on our way to a couple of spots that happened to be withing walking distance of the same subway station. We started at Changdeok-gung, or as I prefer to call it - the "Gate of Mighty Transformation". We got off of the subway after meeting with a couple of more seasoned travellers and went straight for an information booth where we picked-up a map and headed for our Gate of Destiny. I have seen Korean gates before - on other blogs and elsewhere in books and on the internet, but let me tell you, seeing your first one up close is pretty damn cool - especially if it's relatively quiet and there's a soft rain falling. I think I may have messed my pants.
For only 3,000 wan each, Steph and I were hoping to join an English tour. Unfortunately, it had left 15 minutes prior to us arriving so we were faced with either coming back another day, or joining a Korean tour and just doing our best to look around, hopefully being able to read about it all later. We chose the latter and we were glad we did. The tour lasted about an hour and half. I won't go into detail too much about what we saw, but when I get around to loading all of my photos on flickr, I will do me best to describe them all on there. What I will say is that the palace grounds are huge - once through the "Gate of Mighty Transformation", we were lead through a series of houses and residences that were originally constructed beginning in 1405. These building are beautiful and ornate and have been preserved after various partial reconstructions that have been necessary after centuries of warfare with Japan. Should you want to read more about it, follow the link to the wikipedia site:
I could try to discuss each photo with some semblance of educational intent, but that would make this blog REALLY long. So, you'll just have to check out some pictures instead.
I will tell you though that perhaps the most impressive moment was when we rounded the corner to see the "Palace of Illustrious Virtue" - an immense building with a truly cool throne room. We could look inside, but obviously we couldn't enter. It was truly one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.
Behind the main palace buildings is "The Secret Garden" of Biwon - a place I had read about in the Moon Handbook and a destination that really sent us on our way that day. It is a huge 78-acre green space that is mostly covered in trees. Garden paths lead through stone gates to various lotus ponds where you can see guest houses and places where the members of the royal Joseon Dynasty would have sat and contemplated life. There is even a building called the "Retreat of Joy and Goodness". I don't know about you, but I am sold on it. There's even a place where the King would lay on a rock above a waterfall and write poetry while he and his guests floated their glasses of wine around a U-shaped carving in the rock where the water ran in a circle. Sounded pretty cool, but it wasn't on the tour. I asked about it, and I was told that I could only see that space on a "special tour". Perhaps the special tour will be in store for us one day in the fall or Spring.
After the tour of the palace, we headed West to find a place to eat. That's when I encountered perhaps the most low-brow attempt at Christianity on our trip so far. An inflatable advertisement pointing the way upstairs to a local missionary. After walking around a palace that was so peaceful and Confucian in nature and make-up - a true sanctuary of peace in the middle of a huge, sprawling metropolis, seeing this for some reason made my skin crawl just a little bit. In the words of Ally Fox - "I didn't know that Jesus was franchising in the area". But, if Burger King, the US military and Nike are setting-up shop in Itaewon...
I know that sounds a bit callous, but it does seem a bit odd to me still to see the further "westernization" of one of the most western of religions on full display here in the East. What's even more odd is to see it bobbing-along in all of its inflatable glory right next to restaurant signage and adds for the newest version of Warcraft now available at your local PC room. I know that Christianity has had a foothold here for sometime, but it is still a bit jarring.
After a quick meal at a local Chinese restaurant, Steph and I headed to Insa-Dong - a very cool marketplace that reminded me mostly of Kensington in Calgary, only much larger, with streets much more narrow, and with many more shops to choose from. It was raining and there were umbrellas everywhere, which made it even more difficult to move around without taking your eye out, but it was worth it. Steph got excited by the bling, and I got excited for her :) It is definitely a place we will come back to when we have some more cash and it'll be a good place to shop for some cool Korean gifts to send home for the holidays.
The sun had set during our little stroll through Insa-Dong and it was time for us to head back to Suwon to meet-up with some friends for a movie at Suwon Station. We hopped back onto the subway and headed south and actually made it out of Seoul all by ourselves for the first time. We only got confused once or twice and the nice thing about Korean subways stations so far is that people simply know that we need help and they do their best to guide us along. It's very reassuring to know that we won't get too lost as long as there are concerned public waiting over our ignorant foreign selves.
Arriving at Suwon Station much later than we had anticipated, we were sad to hear that our fellow teachers had gone home thinking that we weren't going to show. Without a cell phone here, it can be a little bit of a challenge to plan your day. Still, Steph and I forged ahead and went out to see our first Korean movie here. Sadly, after such cinematic treats as Oldboy and The Host, it has taken us over a week of Kimchi and Bibimbap, not to mention rinsing our mouths out with a little Quentin Tarantino to rid our pallets of the lasting viscous stech-ridden taste that was D-War - an awful Korean film shot in the States that is more of an embarrassment to this country than the film-maker certainly planned for. It is so bad, it hurt me. Korean film can be brilliant, but this was like watching a 10 year-old boy make his first movie with a 35 million dollar budget, F-grade washed-up Hollywood actors and an ass-load of poor-man's Lord of the Rings inspired CGI. Just BAD. But laughter-inducing nevertheless. Look for my review on thatmoviesite withing the next couple of days.
At least the popcorn was good. I do hope to be able to see a few Korean films here too, though seeing them with English subtitles might not be too likely. I'm crossing my fingers that there will be a few decent illegally-reproduced titles on the street next time I'm in Seoul.
On the library front, look what I came across in the Suwon Station bookstore! These Koreans love them some Chris Van Allsburg! So do I! I'm pretty excited that there are a lot of familiar translations here, though I do find myself wishing fairly frequently that I could choose from a few of my favourites from my days at CPL - where's a good story when you need it?
Well, that was a longer blog than I had intended. It looks like this past Saturday's tale will have to wait until tomorrow. I do promise that these will get shorter soon, but I've got some catching-up to do still. By the weekend, you might actually be able to read one of these entries in one sitting. Until then...